Even if you don’t live in New York City, you’ve likely heard by now of an aspiring actress who was shot and killed during a robbery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Much has been made of this killing – particularly, I believe, because the victim, Nicole duFresne, was young, pretty and blonde. (But that’s another issue altogether.)

The killing was a tragedy, and I extend my condolences to Nicole’s family and friends.

But duFresne’s actions, along with her fiancé and their friends the night of their murders, are also a prime example of exactly how NOT to behave on a city street. I’m certainly not saying or implying that these victims deserved what happened to them. But they certainly made it easy for themselves to be victims. I think, therefore, this tragedy gives us the opportunity to review what it means to be safe in a modern urban environment.

For those who haven’t read about the incident, here’s an abbreviated account of what happened. On early Thursday morning, Nicole duFresne finished working at a popular Manhattan music club – her first night on the job – and had gone bar-hopping with her fiancée, Jeffrey Sparks, and two other friends. Upon leaving a bar around 3:15 a.m., the group was walking down the street when as many as seven teens stepped in front of them and accosted them. One of the men pulled a gun and demanded money. Sparks, drunk (by his own admission) and not thinking clearly, shoved the man aside and tried to walk past him; the man proceeded to pistol-whip Sparks. At some point, the muggers then grabbed the purse of one of duFresne’s friends. DuFresne tried to stop him, reportedly saying, “What are you going to do? Shoot us?” At which point the mugger responded by taking Nicole’s suggestion, shooting her in the chest. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Once again, while no one is suggesting that Nicole deserved to die, she and her friends certainly didn’t do anything to prevent this tragedy. Here’s a list of the things they did wrong:

  1. They were drunk in public. Now, I’m sure many of you will tell me that just because Nicole and her friends were drunk didn’t justify they’re being shot. You’re right. But you’re also missing the point. Anything that impairs your judgment, vision, reflexes and awareness should be consumed in the safety of a private home. I’m all for partying it up – do it myself on a regular basis. But I make it a point to never have more than a drink or two in me if I’m going to be out in public. Especially in a major city (such as New York). Especially late at night. This is probably the biggest mistake Nicole and her friends made, one that led to all the other ones that followed.
  2. They were unaware. There’s no telling what role alcohol had to do with this. But late at night, walking down the street, vigilance is crucial to staying safe. From what I’ve read, Nicole and her friends should have noticed a large group of teens walking toward them, noted the hostile aura around them, and tried to avoid them. Obviously, they didn’t. Especially in a city, but not matter where you live, you should be constantly scanning ahead while in public, evaluating places where a criminal might be hiding and waiting for a choice victim, and – most importantly – avoiding those places. This might seem like a lot of trouble – but you can quickly make it an automatic habit, one that you do almost subconsciously. A good way to do this is to start by evaluating your usual routes – from work to your parking lot, from your home to the subway stop, etc. – and imagining where you would hide if you wanted to ambush yourself. That gives you a starting point of places you should make a point of scanning every time you go outside.
  3. They failed to evaluate the situation correctly. Nicole and her friends were outnumbered. Surrounded. And at least one of the assailants was armed. Yet Sparks apparently thought the right thing to do was to shove one of them away. That’s stupid, and akin to poking a rattlesnake for laughs and giggles. Again, I’m not saying he deserved to be beaten. But was it really a surprise that he was?
  4. They failed to evaluate the situation correctly – part two. After Sparks had been beaten for his actions – i.e., the assailants had demonstrated their willingness to use violence – and after one of the assailants (reportedly) said, “Look, all we want is some money,” they failed to just comply and give up their wallets and purses.
  5. They failed to evaluate the situation correctly – part three. After Sparks had been beaten for his actions – i.e., the assailants had demonstrated their willingness to use violence – and after one of the assailants (reportedly) said, “Look, all we want is some money,” Nicole evidently thought it was a good idea to challenge – to dare – and to taunt the gun wielder. In general, if someone is pointing a gun at you, it’s hard to imagine a more inappropriate thing to say than, “What are you going to do, shoot us?”

The shooting of Nicole duFresne was an unfortunate occurrence. But if anything good can come from it, it’s this: learn from her mistakes. Don’t do what she and her friends did. Yes, it’s true that we should all be able to walk the streets at any time, without risk to our safety, our loved ones, or our possessions. You have the right to walk down the street safely and unaccosted. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, not an idealized one, and precautions and sound judgment must be taken – regardless of rights.